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2021 NFL Draft: Cincinnati Bengals can make themselves the most improved team by not taking Penei Sewell

Outside of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who secured the No. 1 overall pick to presumably use on quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the big winners of the 2021 NFL Draft are the Cincinnati Bengals, who pick at No. 5.

There is a real chance we see quarterbacks go first, second, third and fourth overall to start the draft — which has never happened. The Atlanta Falcons are a wild card at No. 4, but they have reportedly remained open to trading the pick to a quarterback-needy team. If they don’t take a quarterback themselves or trade out of the pick, their selection appears it will be dynamic tight end Kyle Pitts. Either way, the Bengals — who already have their franchise quarterback with Joe Burrow — could be in a position to choose from any non-quarterback in the draft class.

The three clear-cut best non-quarterback prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft are undoubtedly Pitts, tackle Penei Sewell and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Assuming Pitts is off the board to the Falcons — which is the leaguewide belief, according to NBC Sports’ Peter King — the Bengals would almost certainly take either Sewell or Chase. The team's fanbase and outsiders are seemingly split on that decision, though.

On one side, there’s a “generational” offensive lineman prospect who would join a unit that has ranked among the worst in the NFL as of late and contributed to Burrow's season-ending injury in his rookie campaign. Cincinnati’s offensive line has been one of the five lowest-graded units in the NFL in each of the past four years.

In 2020, the group came in at No. 30 in combined offensive line PFF grade. Left tackle Jonah Williams and center Trey Hopkins were the only players who performed well enough to retain a starting job. Williams, who missed all of his 2019 rookie year due to injury, produced a blocking grade on true pass sets that ranked in the 87th percentile among tackles. As for Hopkins, he now ranks 14th in pass-blocking grade over the past two years among qualifying centers.

Cincinnati's only notable free agency move to address the offensive line was the signing of offensive tackle Riley Reiff, who was a Minnesota Vikings cap casualty. Last year, he produced a 73.8 PFF grade and ranked 15th among left tackles in pass-blocking snaps played per sack allowed (gave up just one in 2020). It is important to note that head coach Zac Taylor has publicly said Reiff will be the starting right tackle, while Williams will hold his job over at left tackle. Still, some of the Cincinnati faithful are pounding the table for the Sewell. 

On the other side, there’s a “generational” wide receiver prospect who Burrow was teammates with at LSU, forming arguably the best QB-WR connection in the history of college football. During LSU’s historic national title run in 2019, Burrow and Chase connected on more touchdowns from 20-plus-yard targets (14) than any duo in the seven years of the PFF College era.

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